Strokes Gained and Course FIT: using advanced techniques to beat the golf betting markets

Bryan Nicholson has been beating the golf betting markets for 15 years and he talks about his Moneyball style approach to course fit and the strokes gained metrics......

course fit and strokes gained in golf
Strokes gained and course fit in golf betting
Strokes gained in golf is a relatively new concept to measure the performance of golfers. Variance in golf is huge and final round or tournament scores don't tell the whole story. With Strokes gained we can measure expectancy and use it to predict potential future performance vs the golf betting markets which will be weighted towards the overlying data such as finishing positions. I've been adopting a moneyball and sabermetrics style approach to golf betting since the beginning. Essentially I've been using strokes gained before it was a known concept, along with player profiling in keys stats and trend analysis. The only thing was, not being a modeller, I didn't have actual definitive numbers. With the birth of strokes gained and advanced statistics, I built my course fit and progressive form models to put numbers on my theories.

What exactly is course fit in golf betting terms?

Course fit is so underrated by the market. It's the one area you can get a real edge on what's not built into the prices and every week we can narrow down the field significantly using this concept. A strong course fit will equal as many as 2 strokes per round, more in the case of some outliers such as Bryson at Caves Valley on a soft day. Bryson missed a 5 foot putt here in the BMW Championship on the last hole to miss out on a 59. We saw what his power off the tee can do to a long track with wide landing areas and little trouble.

If we consider Dustin Johnson playing without his driver as he did at Liberty National in the Northern Trust 1st round in 2021, how many strokes per round would this cost him? Now imagine it was Augusta where power is a prerequisite. Now take the wedge out of his bag. Approach proximity with the wedge and length off the tee are two of DJs strong points. If we disable these weapons at a course that demands class in these metrics, how many shots will it cost him over the tournament? DJ at Augusta is what I refer to as a strong course fit as opposed to a track where he wouldn't gain much advantage vs the field with driver or his wedges - somewhere like Harbour Town, which I'd refer to as a neutral course for him.



We can use the strokes gained statistics to predict who might go well on specific courses, finding the key metrics for that particular course from past editions of the tournament. This is course fit.

Strokes gained in golf betting explained:

"The PGA Tour has calculated the average number of strokes needed to hole out from every distance and location on the courses. These averages were calculated in one-inch increments on the greens and one-yard increments off the green and are used to create baselines of the average tour performance. With the baseline as the foundation the tour can calculate the probability of an outcome from any distance and location" - PGA Tour

The way the golf betting markets work are with margins added that usually equal about 55 - 60%. Most of this margin is built into the front tier of the market with a theoretical 1.5 - 4% on some of the big boys (if we compare to exchange prices), and plenty adds up on the no hopers down the pack. If we focus more on tier 2 and tier 3 of the market, we are operating in a much more level playing field. The winner often comes from here. Concentrating on this section also lessens the variance.

Does wind affect the probabilities in golf betting?

You better believe it. Another huge variable in golf betting that's underrated by the market is the affect of wind on performance in golf betting. This is not priced into the markets at all. For my golf betting book "Angles & Edges" I did a study over the course of the season to verify what I knew about the wind empirically and get some exact figures. My conclusions were as expected with the rule of thumb being:

" For every 1mph of wind between ~5mph and 30mph, on your average course we can expect to see 0.1 strokes per round added to the scoring average. "

For example: if there's a 5 mph wind for the morning wave, and it gets up to 20mph (which often happens) for the afternoon wave, on a typical course we can expect to see around a 1.5 shot increase in the scoring average. We can get a better understanding by analysing the top echelons of the leaderboards to cut out any outlier performances. The wind factor is due directly to  bringing trouble more into play and making it harder to access pins, and even affecting putting. It's also indirectly down to the breeze drying out and firming up the track. Fast and firm is what makes golf tough.

Progressive form in golf

For a further edge in golf betting we can look for something I call progressive form to add to course fit: Progressive form picks up on the golfers who are trending in the right direction. They may have exponentially improving recent form figures or they might be making lost of birdies but having a mare on a few holes each week. They could be putting three good rounds together but struggling on Sundays. all these things lead to pricing inefficiencies the next week in the golf betting markets.

Course fit and Strokes gained in golf betting summary

Key to successful golf betting is understanding and managing variance. A strong staking plan is needed. Many believe you can back too many players; this is wrong  - the more the better in the long term (without going overboard). We are not going to see numerous big edges in the golf betting outright markets these days, so what we are doing is juicing small edges, and that means volume. The higher the amount of bets and the more turnover, the more profit, and the quicker we realise our equity.

If you enjoyed this content, there's plenty more where that came from in my book ANGLES & EDGES.... or check out our ultimate guide to golf betting


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